COMRADES: Almost A Love Story / 甜蜜蜜 / Tián Mì Mì – 1996 Hong Kong Film Review

BY RUBY GEGE WHO IS IN A JAY CHOU-HIGH AFTER LISTENING TO HIS SONGS ALL MORNING

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Rating : A perfeeeeect 10 out of 10

Why? Because Comrades: Almost A Love Story is exactly a tale of love, survival, ambitions, relationships, isolation and hard decisions moulded into a blissful yet intense two-hour watch. Directed by Peter Chan (who is so in my radar now), many critics hailed the pairing of Leon Lai and Maggie Cheung as lovers. 

The story, like all other stories, starts off pretty simply. During the 1980s, Hong Kong was an up and rising economic powerhouse in Asia. It attracted many Chinese Mainlanders (a term to describe those who came from China) who migrated there for employment and success, indicating that there was a lack of opportunities back home.

Our hero, Li Xiao Jun was a naive Northerner who could only converse in Mandarin and moved to Hong Kong to earn money and had a fiance back home, Xiao Ting. He lived in a house with his aunt, who was actually running a brothel, and several other Thai sex workers. Even though his life was hard due to the language problem, Xiao Jun worked very hard, starting from the bottom as a delivery guy for a butcher shop.

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But really… Is there a delivery man as good looking as Leon Lai on earth? Like… really???ti109685_large

He, then, formed a friendship with Li Qiao, a tough young woman who came from southern China and seemed to be more well-versed about Hong Kong then he was. She spoke Cantonese like a Hong Konger, behaved like a Hong Konger and even thought like a Hong Konger. Working at McDonald’s, Li Qiao earned extra money with any possible manner ie selling Teresa Teng’s cassettes, finding Mainlanders to attend her friend’s English classes and working as a cleaner. She was obsessed, obsessed and obsessed about money.

Their completely different personalities bound them together as two poor immigrants in the bustling and hectic city of Hong Kong. Li Qiao had a tough heart and no-nonsense attitude. Alone in Hong Kong, she met Xiao Jun, who offered her unconditional kindness and friendship.

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They spent a lot of time together, being each other’s only friend. The only reason they did not officially become a couple was that Xiao Jun had a fiancee, to whom he wrote letters very frequently. 

Then, Li Qiao and Xiao Jun had sex. From best friends, they became best friends who were sexually involved. Things seemed to carry on quite normally until Li Qiao realized that Xiao Jun had placed her the same importance and affection as his fiancee. She knew that what they were doing was wrong and cut things off. 

Li Qiao moved on and dated a rich gangster, opened up a business and rekindled their friendship after Xiao Jun’s marriage to Xiao Ting, his fiancee who moved to Hong Kong to be with him. Despite being committed to two different people, they were unable to forget their past and declared their love, determined to be together. However, tragedy struck and Li Qiao was compelled to leave Hong Kong in support of her gangster boyfriend and started a new life in another country. 

Xiao Jun’s wife divorced him after his confession on the affair. Xiao Jun also moved overseas and worked as a chef. It was years later that our lovers’ fates finally intertwined in an open ending. Did they end up together? Hehe, I’d rather choose the happy ending and say that they did. 

THE FILM MADE ME CRY. No kidding. And I was not expecting that. I found the film randomly in Youtube and watched it because I hold Maggie Cheung in a very high regard as an actress. Plus, I was curious to see how her pairing with Leon Lai will work out. Their chemistry together is phenomenal, times 1000.

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I was absorbed in their emotional dependency support for each other, their innocence and loneliness, their conversations, the rides they had on the bicycles and their trips to the ATM machine every time they received their salaries. They were two young people, seemingly lost amid the drowning reality of Hong Kong, trying to build up a life. It was a love story at its best. They ended up together even when they were not supposed to. Like Li Qiao said to Xiao Jun, life depends on your goals and dreams. Li Qiao had achieved her dream of having businesses, Xiao Jun achieved his by being a successful chef. Both were in great relationships. Yet, their hearts pined for each other, still. 

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Can I just mention how endearing Leon Lai is as Xiao Jun? As a nephew, he is filial. As a friend, he is helpful, kind and patience. As a lover, he is selfless, gentle and considerate. In short, he is perfect. WAIT, even ‘perfect’ is an understatement. Please, God, give me a man like Li Xiao Jun and I will never let him go!! 

The music of Teresa Teng also plays a huge role in this film. The Chinese title, Tian Mi Mi is one of Teresa’s songs and our couple loved humming to the song while riding on the bicycle and after having sex. Li Qiao was an ardent fan of Teresa Teng and sold her cassettes as a part time endeavour. Li Qiao herself is a very interesting character to watch in this film. Underneath that harsh straightforward manner she displayed, I’d like to think that her love for Teresa Teng’s songs represented her softer side. She could have been gentler if life was a bit nicer to her. Yet, unlike the innocent Xiao Jun, Li Qiao was often in a survival mode, her mind set to make money as much as possible. Teresa Teng’s music made the film a much sweeter journey for me as it serves as a stark contrast to the city-centred cinematography of the film.

Ahhhh…. If you love a great love story, Comrades: Almost A Love Story is a must-watch. Let me just repeat that – a must must must watch!! The after-effects of the film stayed with me for almost a week, making me smile just thinking about how sweet and beautiful the relationship between Li Qiao and Xiao Jun was. 

*am now listening to Tian Mi Mi by Teresa Teng non-stop… Her voice is very sweet, I can cry!!*

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